Revised Common Lectionary Scriptures for the day:
- First Reading Jeremiah 1:4-10
- Psalm Psalm 71:1-6
- Second Reading 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
- Gospel Luke 4:21-30
Author’s note: I wasn’t entirely happy with delivery of my sermon this morning, so the following is a more polished version.
Let us pray:
O God, you are so familiar yet sometimes so strange. Teach us once more and speak to us in ways we understand. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer, Amen.
Let me preface this with a confession. I have found this story of Jesus in his hometown to be somewhat difficult and troubling. Mostly, I think, because I can see shades of myself in it. But that often happens with Scripture, doesn’t it? And that is why it is still relevant for us today. In order to help me grapple with today’s story, I’ve taken the liberty of playing with the story just a bit, so bear with me.
If there were newspapers back in Nazareth at the beginning of the Common Era, the local Gazette might have featured a Friday morning article titled “Run-away Carpenter turned Rabbi Comes Home.” The hashtag for the paper’s online version might have said something like: “Is this Joseph’s missing son?”
On the local radio program you might have heard: “We interrupt our regular program for this brief news flash: The local carpenter, old Joseph’s son Jesus, who left town for mysterious reasons some time ago, returns with Rabbi training. Come hear him speak at tonight’s assembly. Stay tuned for tonight’s live broadcast of the meeting.”
That night, Jesus gets right to the point. He unrolls the scroll to the place where it describes the 50th year Jubilee and declares, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Just what is he declaring?
He just made a bold – maybe even brash – economic, political, communal, and even spiritual statement. In the Jubilee year all debts are cancelled, giving Israelite families freedom from bondage and a new beginning once more. Who gave him the authority to do so, anyway? Just who does he think he is, the Roman governor? The Sanhedrin? Isn’t he just Joseph and Mary’s son? Those of Nazareth who knew him as a boy growing up have heard of the great things he accomplished among the people at Capernaum – a largely Gentile community by the way. So now he comes home…and declares this?!? It got me thinking…
I wonder what kinds of expectations his home-town people have for him? Hearing of his amazing deeds elsewhere, I can see how they might think: “Maybe, finally, it is OUR (as in, the Jewish) turn.” Maybe he can do the same types of things for them…but then, shouldn’t he do even more for them? I mean, after all these are his home folk – the Jews, the Chosen ones!
Here is where I think they get into trouble. I think where they got into trouble is when they took their expectations and turned them into entitlement. Hopeful, anticipatory expectations of healing and wholeness become skewed; I can almost hear the tone of voice of their thinking: “Aren’t WE God’s Chosen among the nations, and the children of the Chosen ones of old?”
Jesus immediately addresses what he sees, “’Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'” 24And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.’”
I wonder if what they want is something more than a validation. I wonder if they want to be a little “one up” over those Gentiles over in Capernaum. I wonder, if what they want is a selfish kind of “me first”, maybe a bit stronger than a pat on their back – perhaps in tune with his bold and brash political and economic Jubilee claim a moment ago, perhaps a validation of their superiority as the “in group,” the “true people of God” –
“We are the Jews, isn’t it about time we got back what we DESERVE? We deserve healing, we deserve wholeness, we deserve what we want… I wonder if that is where this story goes wrong; the wrong turn from feelings of expectation to more selfish feelings of entitlement. I have fallen into this trap myself.
Let’s think about it from another perspective. When entitlement begins to rule in our lives, it is, in effect, becoming inwardly focused – which necessarily shuts the world out. But that is not the way of Love! Paul, writing later, speaks to the way of Love:
“4Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8Love never ends.”
If entitlement is what has happened in this story, then they have lost sight of God’s love.
Jesus, no longer the little boy they knew, has to point that out, and it doesn’t go over very well. Jesus quotes from their own history of God’s doings among them, mentioning two of the greatest prophets they have ever had…but he points out by their example that God was acting and reaching through them to outsiders, not patting insiders on the back. The widow in Sidon was outside the fold of Judaism, as was Naaman the Syrian. God’s miraculous gifts of healing and feeding were poured out on Gentile outsiders!
I can almost hear them thinking and muttering, “That isn’t fair, God is OUR God, pay attention to US! Don’t WE deserve your recognition, your recognition, your love, your healing, your wholeness? It is supposed to belong to US! WE were the Chosen ones.” Now I think I understand why they so quickly switched from “All spoke well of him” to, “when they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.”
Have you ever had feelings of entitlement? Do you suppose it is possible for us in today’s world of religious and political freedom to take the same turn and forget to look beyond the church walls? Or even our personal walls? Are we in danger of letting our expectations turn into entitlements?
It is an easy trap, I think. Which also leads me to ask: if entitlement is a slippery slope to selfishness, and is selfishness is building walls around ourselves – looking only inward then put another way, it becomes nothing less than looking out for number one. Is that the way of Love?
For true blossoming of spirit and growing in our life of faith – whatever that faith may be, I suspect it is imperative to look beyond the walls and doors of our houses of worship and into the hearts, the eyes, and thus into the souls of our neighbors, seeing them as the Lord sees them – with eyes filled with love, seeing fellow children of God waiting to be loved, embraced, and welcomed, no matter who they are or where they are in their journey of faith. I find that to be incredibly liberating! And liberation is precisely what Jesus spoke that night to the assembly:
“He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down….”Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
May all glory be unto the one who lived, died, and rose again for us, even him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.